Updated: Apr 11, 2019
There's something about Pawhuska, Oklahoma that feels like home. Regardless of where you travel from, the nostalgic feeling of "home sweet home" hits you as soon as your traveling shoes hit the tiny town's Kihekah Avenue pavement. It's easy to see why Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond has such high regards for her once-quiet little town.
The "Accidental Country Girl" has turned a quaint community into a viable tourist destination after gaining fame through her Food Network program, now in its 20th season. The folks around Pawhuska are more than proud of the fact that their little spot on the map has welcomed visitors from every state in the nation, from 40 countries, and has hosted as many as 15,000 tourists in one day! During the tourist season, The Pioneer Woman Mercantile will see a daily average of 6,000 smiling faces walk through its doors.
We were fortunate enough to beat the summer madness. In fact, we had no problem at all getting promptly served at the Food Network superstar's eateries. While Pawhuska might not be a hot spot for night life and amusement-park-type entertainment, the food alone is worth the trip, regardless of how far you have to travel!
A piece of pizza perfection, please
After driving the 500-plus miles to get there, Lanny and I were anxious to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about. First stop, Ree's pizza place, P-Town Pizza, which was located a stone's throw from our Frontier Hotel suite.
If the only thing we'd have experienced during our three-day stay was the Steakhouse Pizza, the mini-vacation would have been considered a rousing success! What's not to love about medium-rare steak slices crowning the top of wood-fired pizza that has more than its fair share of tomato sauce and mozzarella, balsamic-glazed red onions, shaved parmesan, crispy mushrooms and green onions? Last but not least, all of this flavor-overload is topped with peppercorn cream and steak sauce.
And, of course, we had to try one of Ree's signature creations, Not-Knots. (Let's not-knot count the carbs, ok?)
Eat, sleep, repeat
After we had eaten our fill, we walked across the way to our hotel. Ultimately, we would loved to have stayed at the Pioneer Woman Boarding House, Ree and Ladd's eight-room "cowboy luxury" hotel, but there was "no room in the inn." Bookings are difficult to come by as the suites usually stayed reserved well over a year in advance. (Check website for additional dates, as they may become available. Ree's list of other accommodation options.)
However, staying at the Frontier Hotel turned out to be a wonderful experience for us. It is conveniently located across the street from both P-Town and The Merc.
The unique five-story triangular structure has recently been refurbished and now offers over 20 boutique guest rooms. Built in 1912, the building originally housed over 100 lawyers, doctors and commercial businesses during the Oil Boom. Sadly, at the turn of the 20th century, the town of Pawhuska — like so many Oklahoma towns — took a hard hit when the Oil Boom dwindled. The Triangle Building lost its purpose when businesses closed as a result of the faltering economy.
It was not until the Pioneer Woman breathed new life into Pawhuska (October 2016) that the historic building became viable again.
Undergoing a multi-million-dollar historic renovation, The Frontier Hotel's original marble staircases, entry foyers, windows and corridors welcome guests from all over the world. Much attention to detail was given to ensure the building's authenticity would be kept intact.
And while staying in the hotel may seem like you are stepping into the past, rest assured every modern convenience is available for weary travelers.
I'm a huge fan of Food Network's program, The Pioneer Woman. Ree cooks homestyle food made for real people with real appetites— large, cowboy-size appetites! I've collected her cookbooks through the years and turn to them each time I need to make or bake a tried-and-true comfort recipe. So needless to say, I was anxious to see how the restaurant measured up to my tv-inspired image of the local legend's handiwork.
To say that the taste, quantity and quality of the food — and the service — far exceeded my expectation is an understatement. We indulged in two breakfasts and one dinner; and no, we don't want to talk about what it did to our cholesterol levels and waistlines! But it was worth every single mouthwatering calorie.
Everything is prepared with an unexpected twist of decadence. Even though Lanny is somewhat of a purist when it comes to the way he prefers his caffeine-fix, he loved the unique flavor of Ree's Cowboy Coffee. According to the menu, it's a shot of espresso, infused with sarsaparilla and topped with frothed milk. A must-try!
From biscuits and gravy to veggie omelettes and skillet ham scrambles, the Merc breakfasts are scrumptious enough to make you want to go back to Oklahoma for a second helping.
Making my all-time-favorites list was Edna Mae's Pancakes. Topped with strawberry, raspberry, and maple honey butters ("Buttahs") and served with four syrups (Aged Vanilla and Cinnamon, Orange Zest and Clove, Sea Salt Caramel, and Maple), it's an over-the-top heap of fluffy yumminess. (Nope, I didn't finish it, but the remainder made it all the way back to Texas!)
Ree's recipe for the pancakes is shared on her website and can be found by clicking here: Edna Mae's Pancake Recipe. Although I doubt seriously it will taste the same, I'll settle for a close second.
We were warned, "Choose half-orders whenever possible: Portions are extremely generous." It took only one moderately-priced meal to realize they weren't kidding! In my defense, the photos below cover brunch for two days (with leftovers!) and the servings held our hunger at bay until dinner.
Dinner was equally as delicious. Regardless of our menu choices, we were impressed each time. Lanny's Fried Pork Chops and my Chicken Parmesan were both fabulous dishes and we couldn't leave without satisfying our sweet tooth by way of the chocolate cake; which, by the way, comes to you in a piping-hot skillet with a side of ice cream. Oh! My! Goodness!
But enough about food...
The Mercantile, outside of being a destination restaurant, houses the gift shop, deli and bakery. (OK, so a little bit more about food...) Ree and Ladd refurbished the original Osage Mercantile Company, built in 1903. The Drummonds purchased the building in 2012 and renovations began, starting with the addition of their ranch offices. Extreme care was taken to preserve the authenticity of the building.
A vintage advertisement was discovered and painstakingly uncovered during the renovation process. The mural depicts the name, National Biscuit Company — otherwise known as Nabisco — and is now a focal point, located in the deli.
In 2016, their new business venture was up and running.
If it's shopping you're interested in, you've hit the jackpot! From logo t-shirts and signature Ree-style flowered blouses to her many cookbooks and trademark kitchen cookware/dishes, etc., The Merc has something for everyone, at very reasonable prices.
If you see something you like and can't make the trip, no worries! Shop online for your favorite items by clicking the link: Products
With all the focus on food, it's easy to overlook what else the area of Pawhuska and Osage County has to offer. Well, the answer depends on what you're expecting from your stay. If you're looking for fast-paced excitement with a Things To Do list a mile long, keep driving. But if you're interested in experiencing a beautiful area, rich in history with a cultural climate of its very own, you've come to the right place.
The town dates back as far as 1872 and was named in honor of Paw-Hiu-Skah (White Hair), Chief of the Thorny Valley People. The settlement was part of what was then the Osage Nation, Indian Territory. Today, the Osage Nation has its headquarters in Pawhuska, where the Osage Nation Museum is located.
Little hints and nuggets of information can be found scattered along the pavement, seen on the sides of buildings and heard straight from the lips of the locals — all striving to piece together the story of a community that was once thriving.
Just north of town, The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve protects the largest remaining tallgrass prairie on the planet and is home to 2,500 free-roaming bison. Visitor Guidelines: "#1 "Stay in your car! #2 Stay in your car! and #3 Stay in your car!" Bison can be very aggressive.
The adult males can weigh up to 2,000 lbs, stand over 6 1/2' tall at the shoulders, run at speeds of 35 MPH and can jump 6' horizontally or vertically! (Please don't ask how I got the iPhone close-ups of the bison... That'll l just be my little secret, ok? )
We were fortunate enough to be there during the "patch-burn" — a grassland management strategy in which patches of land are burned to encourage animals to freely "select" in which areas they prefer to graze.
The scenic 10-mile bison/tallgrass Preserve is well worth the trip.
If you're up for a challenge, there's the Swinging Bridge, a small-but-creaky suspension bridge that swings 30' above the waters of Bird Creek. It's a good place to face a few fears and to find out if luck is on your side as you step across the ragged wooden planks.
Built in 1926, it was once the only way to get to town when high waters made traveling to town for commodities impossible.
Lanny sighting: See that little dot in the last pic? That's him! Proof he was there! (He hates to have his picture taken!)
August: Osage County
In 2013, Pawhuska saw a lesser version of the popularity and tourism it enjoys today when Academy Award® winners Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep were on site filming "August: Osage County." The intensely dark drama about the ultimate dysfunctional Weston family was produced by George Clooney and brought to Pawhuska some of Hollywood's most notable actors.
Among those who had major roles in the Oscar nominated film were Juliette Lewis, Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Chris Cooper and Margot Martindale. While the movie correctly depicts that sweltering heat of Oklahoma summers, I would like to think the Weston family would be the exception the rule as far as family life in the area is concerned.
What we experienced, instead, was hometown pride and welcome mats! Even though we travel quite a lot, I can't think of many places where the people of a tourist community were as friendly as those we met in Pawhuska. They had absolutely no idea I'd be writing a blog post about the visit, and yet we were treated in a manner that made us feel like we were old friends.
When we ate at P-Town, our waitress volunteered that the Drummonds are every bit as nice as they appear to be on Ree's program. She said, "They treat their employees with so much kindness. We feel like family."
I had to ask a local merchant to help me solve a serious case "shopper's remorse." I fell in love with a dress that I didn't purchase. On the way back home, I called the Mariposa boutique to explain the situation.
Owner Cathi Ball was more than happy to help me, sending the dress to me on the "honor system." It's a rarity to find folks who still operate on the basis of a metaphorical handshake but, again, it speaks to the down-home atmosphere found in the small community. (BTW: I don't recommend purchasing a dress "after the fact." Life is short: BUY THE DRESS WHEN YOU FIND IT!)
It was the intricate embroidery work on the dress that I just couldn't bare to leave in Oklahoma. It belongs in Texas! (Thank you, Cathi!)
Another shop that I loved was Sunset Ridge Gallery, full of wonderful local area artisan creations like the buffalo nickel bracelet that also ended up in Texas. Owner Denise Webster's gallery carries everything from art and jewelry to furs.
Regardless of where we ate, shopped or visited, folks went out of their way to be friendly. That speaks volumes about a community.
"But did you see Ree?"
While we were there, I missed seeing Ladd (by a couple of minutes) at the Merc — the place he frequents in order to grab breakfast or lunch.
Did we see Ree? No, she was filming on the days we were there, but I chose not to reschedule because we were there to celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary. I do, however, plan a return visit to experience The Lodge and maybe check off the "Interview Ree" item on my bucket list. (NOTE: If you intend to visit The Lodge, be sure to check the dates that are available!)
We took a brief trip out to their sprawling 433,000-acre Drummond Ranch before leaving and it's easy to see how the ranch life can seep into the soul of a gal who "grew up on the seventh fairway of a golf course," attended college in California and who once "kissed James Garner in an elevator."
It's a unique way of life that may not be for everybody, but it works for Ree, Ladd and the 3,583 folks who call Pawhuska home.
Whether you are there in April, August or anywhere in-between, a journey to Pawhuska is chock-full of life's little pleasures. You won't find "canned" — food OR entertainment — so chances are, you won't leave feeling like you need another vacation to recover.
It's a perfect "girl trip," or couple's vacation. While it's very kid-friendly, it's not Disney World. It's just a dot on the Oklahoma map, about an hour's drive northwest of Tulsa, that has made me, and tens of thousands of others, smile.
I survived the bison (even though I "missed" the cautionary memo), the swinging bridge, the Sixth and Seventh Street Staircases, and the fact that we nearly ate ourselves into a food coma. For now, it's back to real life, and the gym! I'll be more than happy to log in a few more reps in order to erase a few of the pounds we no doubt added to the scale.
For the record, I can't wait to go back!
After all, those "To Go" bakery goodies aren't gonna last forever!
Reminding to you Bloom a Little Every Day,